Here’s the thing, I used to be really scared of the open water swim in Triathlon, like really scared. I was so scared to the point where I would have anxiety attacks in the water, my heart would race and I would literally be grasping for air. I would train my BUTT off and would get in the water during a race and all of the practice and training would go out the window! So aggravating! My swim time was what was separating me from a top place age group finish, even more of a reason to focus on fixing that confidence issue. You could fine me doing breast stroke or floating on my back to relax in the beginning of a race. It would take me several minutes to calm down before actually getting into a freestyle groove.
Fast forward to now, and I am more confident than ever in the water. I will honestly say, it takes years of practice and racing to get confident in an open water swim during a triathlon. Granted, for some people it might take less time than it took me, but for most, I know this is a struggle. I was determined to get confident in the water and to decrease my swim times. I have gone from finishing in the middle of the pack (or further back) during the swim, to finishing at the top of the pack in my age group… and I was never a competitive swimmer! I still have a lot to work on, like my technique, but there are a lot of things that have helped me gain confidence in the water. Hopefully my tips can help you to gain confidence in the water!
How to gain confidence in the open water:
1. Practice, practice practice! I can’t say this enough. You need to practice in the open water in order to RACE in the open water. Getting in the open water just once before a race is not enough. I made this mistake during my very first triathlon, hence the panic attack.
2. Swim with a buddy who is comfortable in the open water. When I first ventured into triathlons, I found a few girls to swim with and it made all the difference. One of the girls was a college swimmer and triathlete, it gave me a sense of comfort swimming with her. She was also faster than me and it gave me something to work towards. I always like to have someone next to me when I swim. This also prepares you for race day when you have a ton of people all around you.
3. Find a song with a good beat, and get it stuck in your head. This is my strategy for when I am scared swimming while training or especially during racing. I have mentioned this before on the blog, but it truly works wonders. When you repeat song lyrics (my song of choice is ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry) it helps you relax and get into a rhythm… try it for yourself!
4. Realize that you are scaring any living thing in the water that might be near you. I only practice in a pond, so I cannot speak for the ocean, but I know that nothing can kill me where I swim and I try to remind myself of this. I also try not to think about the bad things that could happen, like drowning, because this totally freaks me out. Whenever I get worried about seeing fish, I try to remind myself that they are more scared of me, than I am of them… THIS does not apply to sharks obviously. But that’s why I don’t do ocean swims…
5. Warm up before a race, this is critical! Warming up in the water before a race is not only critical for warming up your muscles, but also your MIND. All open water is different, whether is be a lake, pond or ocean. Even if you practice in a lake all the time, chances are the lake at your race will seem a lot different. There could be more waves, less visibility, etc… don’t wait until the gun goes off to see what it’s like. I recommend getting in the water AT LEAST 10 minutes before race start. Also, practice going around a buoy and getting a feel for the course. Another suggestion is to familiarize yourself with the swim course before arriving on race morning i.e. reading the Athlete Guide and knowing what direction the course goes and what the turns look like… highly recommended!
6. Quit over thinking it. Easier said than done, but once you relax in the water, you will be much better off. It has taken me years not to ‘over think’ the open water swim. I over think everything in my life, so you can only imagine what I used to be like in the open water. Just give yourself the proper amount of time to train, and you shouldn’t have to over think:)
What scares you the most about open water swimming? How do you overcome your fears?